Show society presidents praise their volunteers for helping ag shows thrive again after drought, floods, fire and a pandemic during National Volunteer Week

To mark this year’s National Volunteer Week, Agricultural Shows Australia are talking to five agshow presidents from across Australia to celebrate both themselves and their volunteer teams after a couple of rocky years.

Kerry Heinicke, President at Pinnaroo Show Society in South Australia

Kerry Heinicke has lived in the tiny border town of Pinnaroo, South Australia for over thirty years. The tight knit community is about three hours north-east of Adelaide.

“When I arrived in town I quickly realised that the Pinnaroo Show and Field Day was a big yearly community event which most people attended,” she said.

“My mother in law introduced me to entering whatever exhibits I could find time to make. For example patchwork, sewing, growing my own fruit and vegetables, photography, which I loved doing, wool from our shearing, flowers from my garden and so on.”

From there she became a fruit and vegetable steward and then in 2021 took up the role of President of the Murraylands Agricultural Societies Association.

“I’ve only missed one show in 2019 when I was overseas,” she said.

Kerry Heinicke knows the value of her volunteers so it’s not surprising what her first ritual of every show is.

“The first thing I do on show morning is buy my fruit and vegetable stewards a coffee or hot chocolate to start their day. I then run around and thank everyone for their amazing contribution to the show. I give the President’s Speech, welcome life members and patrons, special guests at the official opening and introduce the guest speaker to officially open the show. I give instructions to those who need help and just try to make sure the day runs smoothly with no hiccups.”

“Getting to the end of the day and being told that it’s been the best show ever is my favourite part of the job.”

Ms Heinke paid tribute to her community and volunteers for the show’s ongoing success and praised young members for jumping on board.

“As I’m nearing one of the oldest on our committee I put value on the input of our younger members as they contribute so many fresh and interesting ideas and they just know how to make things happen.”

She said having not had a show in 2020 and then a show impacted by the Victorian border closure last year had made things difficult.

Victorian residents from the cross-border community Murrayfield were told they couldn’t attend the Pinnaroo Show after the Victorian government tightened cross-border rules because of a COVID19 case in Mount Gambier. But the show still went on.

Kerry Heinicke said she didn’t want to be president in the first place but is now relishing the role.

“I took on the president role because no one else was able to take it on at that time and the committee thought I had the skill set to do the job,” she said. “I’m now glad I took the position on as it’s teaching me a lot about the show and has given me more self-confidence.” 

Kath Ryan, President of Kununurra Show Society

Kath Ryan has been involved in the Kununurra Show for more than a decade and took on the role of president five years ago. She says the remote region in the KImberley is slowly starting to recover from the impacts of COVID19, but the effects are long lasting. “Here in the Kimberley, we’re still affected by the closed border especially because of the lack of staff. So many businesses in the region are screaming for staff since it reopened so not many people have the capacity to do the volunteer work that they would usually do.” But she said the spirit of the show still shines through despite the hardship. “We’ve been really lucky with a few people who have said, ‘Okay, I’ll do that’, for a couple of key items that we were otherwise thinking, how on earth are we going to manage that?”. She said her favourite thing about the Kununurra Show is the ‘watermelon olympics.’ “It’s so much fun,” she said. “It’s not always run in the same format, but it always involves watermelons and balancing, it’s pretty busy.” Kath Ryan said she’s particularly proud of some of the wins herself and the committee have had over the past couple of years. “When I took over, previous presidents and previous committee members were pretty exhausted, just because we’d had lots of issues with the lease and permits,” she said. “Things are quite difficult there for a while. But it was actually an Ag Shows Australia grant that was a huge game changer for us. The hard work of the previous executive had paid off. We have a licensed caravan park now and a lease that’s in place and an MOU with the Shire. So many of those high level things that we hadn’t been able to do because we were struggling to stay afloat have now been sorted out.” Kath Ryan said they are very much looking forward to this year’s show after the WA borders were closed to the rest of the country last year just a few weeks out from their event. “We were so happy because the borders were open in the lead up to last year’s show and then they just slammed shut, just a couple of weeks before it was due to be held so that was a little bit devastating.” Now the borders are open again, Kath Ryan is calling on anyone traveling to the Kimberley region to consider staying a while and investing time in the communities. “If anyone traveling wants to get involved with the show, please contact us. We’d love to have you involved.”

NSW: Matt Duff, President at Tenterfield Show

Matt Duff is not only President of the Tenterfield Show Society he is now an even busier man having welcomed twin girls into the world this month with his lovely wife. “It’s been hectic,” he said. Matt has been a part of the show movement since he was 18 years old and has recently taken on the role as president. “I was part of the committee when I was 18 and was involved with prime cattle and then stepped into the role of Vice President and then President,” he said. “I still try to stay involved with the prime cattle and do whatever is needed wherever needed.” 

His favourite part of the show is the grand opening. “I’d have to say it’s the opening or wherever it may be where you get that moment to have a look at the crowd that’s around and see the big gathering of people and everyone having a good time and in that moment you know all the little hiccups along the way are worth it just to see people enjoying themselves from young kids to elderly members of the community.” 

Matt credits his small but dedicated team of volunteers for helping to get the show back on track after years of drought and COVID19. “We have a small but amazing committee of volunteers, who do a lot of heavy lifting,” he said.” He said attracting younger people is difficult. “It’s extremely hard, extremely hard to get young volunteers, less than 10 people involved would be under the age of 40.” 

Matt Duff said the showground also had to have a complete overhaul, after it was used as a staging point for the RFS during the 2019/20 bushfires. “We were like everyone prior to COVID, Tenterfield itself obviously had the drought, which Tenterfield is a rural community, so it was a huge impact and then bushfires, our Showground was a base for RFS for quite a few months,” he said. “So once the bushfires were over we had to completely rebuild our main ring because  of all the traffic from the fire trucks and vehicles. But you know there’s been plenty of hurdles but we’ve overcome them and are looking forward to the future and hopefully we might finally get a clear run now.” 

Matt hopes to get more people involved in the show society now the pandemic has eased. 

“I think the way I look at it is, if no one comes in and helps out, eventually, these rural shows and a lot of organisations connected with volunteering, they might not be able to happen and the community will miss out. The more people we have, the easier it is to put on a great event. A lot of our volunteers are ageing now and we have to look to the future. It’s not about giving up your whole life, just even a few hours during the show can make all the difference.”


QLD: Alanah Ladbrook, Roma


The President of the Roma Show Society is Alanah Ladbrook, who is no stranger to an ag show. Ms Ladbrook is a 4th generation member of the show society. She was the second ever Roma Miss Showgirl. She has been showing horses since she was two years old and has been a member of the committee since about 15 years of age. Alanah Ladbrook has either been a competitor or Chief Steward in the ring since that time.  She still competes with her horses and has also judged at many shows. It’s quite the resume, but being president is a relatively new role to her. “I’m sure there’s other people who could do it really well, but at the moment, it’s really hard to find people so I was fine to take it on because if I wasn’t there, well, maybe there wouldn’t be a show to compete at. So you’ve just got to take that time.” Every member of her mothers family has been involved in the show. Her husband George and herself are keen supporters of the show and many local groups and events.  One son is assisting in the cattle ring and the other is learning the ropes in the main ring after a stint on the microphone in the assembly yard last year.  “My great grandparents were involved in the show movement and we’ve got photos from way back when my great aunt was riding,” she said. “I started out probably going along to meetings with Mum as a kid and being on the committee and helping her out or other people out. And then it just sort of progressed. She, like many other show presidents, said the time-poor nature of life today is having an impact on volunteer numbers. “COVID19 is still causing issues, because there’s people that say they are coming, and then they can’t make it because they either have it or are isolating. I think people have had to reassess their lives as well and I don’t know whether it’s good for volunteering or bad. I’m not sure. But then, you know, a lot of people are also trying to make up for COVID so they want to be more involved in their community. It’s just that we are all time-poor, it’s crazy, we’ve got all this technology around us and yet, we seem to have less time than we’ve ever done. But we have to stay positive.” She said this year they tried to incorporate more youth in the Roma Show by including school students in the running of events. “We had a lot of kids involved this year,” she said. “We asked the school where I am teaching at and it was good to be able to get those kids to come out and get involved and enjoy what they were doing. So we had kids in the cake section and they went down to the cattle and to the working dogs. I think we’ve got to really encourage that through. I think the hands-on approach gives them a better view to what they’re actually volunteering for. Because I think they see it as an old person’s thing to do. They quickly realise there’s so many things they can do to help.”


VIC: Robert Rogers. Natimuk


President of the Natimuk Show Society Robert Rogers first remembers coming to the show at the age of ten when he would help his dad with poultry. Natimuk is located between Horsham and Edenhope in the Wimmera agricultural region of western Victoria. Sixty years on he’s now been the President of the Natimuk Show Society for 21 years. He said it’s a role he never thought he’d take on but now can’t imagine giving it up. “I probably didn’t want to do it at all when it came to the president’s role,” he said. “I backed out of it a few times, I could have had the job several years earlier. Eventually I thought I’ll have a go at this and it’s really been one of the best things I’ve ever done in show society business to take on the role of president. A lot of people have it in for the role, I was one of them, they hate the thought of it, but I reckon it’s a magnificent line of work to be involved in.” He said the secret to his show success is treating everyone equally. “I think it’s best to try not to have favourites, just treat everyone the same and you get on the same level as everyone else and things seem to work out that way because you’re mates with the whole committee then,” he said. Mr Rogers said despite being President he is still heavily involved in the poultry section of the show. “I still like to be listed as a steward just to keep an eye on things to make sure things are running smoothly in that section because my family over the years has always been heavily involved in poultry.” This year the Natimuk Show celebrated its 130th birthday. “130 years is a fine achievement,” Mr Rogers said. “We’re only a small scale show in relation to some, but we are still ticking along.” It was also the 150th anniversary of the town’s settlement. “I’m not sure how we’re going to top the celebrations next year.” Mr Rogers said he was pleased the event was able to go ahead after a difficult few years. “Over the past two years there’s only been one restriction and that’s COVID and that’s been a major one, we missed a show on 2020 and it’s also been an issue in 2021 and 2022, with all the rules and regulations and things changing all the time, so that’s been a struggle but we’ve survived. I imagine it’s the same with everyone.” He said while the committee is strong they are always looking for more volunteers to get involved. “There’s always room for more, it’s getting harder to scratch up new volunteers a lot of our older volunteers over the past few years have deteriorated in health so we are trying to find some new ones, we’ve been getting through ok, you always think you’ll be light on but come show day everything somehow always falls into place.”